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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Angelique Kerber

World No. 1 is in the top quarter of the draw with former Miami Open champions Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova though her biggest threat may be a teenager.

Photo credit: Miami Open

Indian Wells showed us a recipe for revival.

Turn up the heat, open opportunities in Serena Williams absence, add in the pressure of a Premier tournament and thirty-something champions begin behaving like collegiate spring breakers celebrating sun and fun after four months of snow-bound gloom.

Watch: Sharapova Talks Serena, Dimitrov

Thirty-year-old Elena Vesnina played with spunky defiance winning the final four games subduing 31-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova in the three-hour BNP Paribas Open final. It was the first all thirtysomething-final in Indian Wells history.

The desert was revitalizing for 36-year-old Martina Hingis, who partnered Yung-Jan Chan to win the Indian Wells doubles title 18 years after Hingis lifted the title alongside Anna Kournikova.

As the circuit shifts coasts for the second blast of the Sunshine double, the senior set is in the spotlight again in the Miami Open draw.

Top Quarter

The Miami Open draw, devoid of injured, engaged Serena and reigning champion and new mom Victoria Azarenka, crams the world No. 1 and two former champions into the top quarter.

Angelique Kerber, who succeeded idle Serena to regain No. 1, could encounter personal kryptonite Daria Kasatkina in the third round.

The 31st-seeded Russian teenager has already beaten the US Open champion twice this season—in Sydney and Doha—on the flip side Kasatkina hasn’t won a match since her last victory over Kerber arriving in Miami on a three-match losing streak.

"I feel that when you look at Simona Halep or you look at Radwanska, even if you look at Kerber to a certain extent, those players don't have the power to blow people off the court," Hall of Famer Chris Evert said. "So I think it's going to be tough for Kerber even to keep the No. 1 ranking with how power is taking over the sport, but with power comes high risk.

"That's the thing. It's high risk. Serena plays high risk. She's had so much experience, and she's been able to really now come to an age where she can be thoughtful on the court and she can really know how to handle, know how to harness that power well."

It’s been 19 years since Venus Williams won the first of her three Miami titles. Williams, who went three sets in four of her Indian Wells’ matches, could meet Kristina Mladenovic in the third round. Mladenovic permitted just four games sweeping Williams en route to her first title in St. Petersburg last month and enters Miami coming off the Indian Wells quarterfinals.

Humid, heavy, windy South Florida conditions suit Svetlana Kuznetsova’s gripping topspin game.

The 2006 Miami champion knocked off Serena en eroute to the 2016 Miami final losing to Azarenka. Kuznetsova could face US Open finalist Roberta Vinci in round three less than two weeks after she defeated the versatile Italian in three sets in Indian Wells. Kuznetsova has won four of seven meetings with Vinci though they’ve split their last four matches.

The question is: How much will two-time Grand Slam champion have left in her legs after a draining run to the Indian Wells final? The secondary question is: Why didn’t Sveta wear a baseball cap or a visor during her three-hour battle with Vesnina that left her face flushed and her legs looking drained?

Second Quarter

No. 3-seeded Simona Halep and eighth-seeded Madison Keys are the top seeds in this section. The fifth-ranked Romanian has struggled with knee and self-belief issues this season. Halep has been vulnerable to big hitters who can take charge with the first strike, including her Australian Open first-round loss to Shelby Rogers and Indian Wells second-round defeat to Mladenovic. The bad news for Halep is she could face a jolting power player, Naomi Osaka, in her opener. If she gets through that match, Halep could meet dangerous left-hander Ekaterina Makarova en route to a possible third straight Miami quarterfinal.

Contesting just her second tournament of the season after off-season surgery to her left wrist, Keys will play either Viktorija Golubic or Tsvetana Pironkova in her first match. Keys, who has spent time training at the USTA National Training Center in Lake Nona, Florida, could play No. 10-seeded Johanna Konta in the fourth round of seeds hold true to form. They have split two career meetings with Konta scoring a three-set win in a physically-grinding battle in the Beijing semifinals last fall. Konta, who beat Agnieszka Radwanska in the Sydney final for her second career title, has reached quarterfinals or better in three of four tournaments this season.

Third Quarter

Empowered by the biggest singles title of her career, new No. 13 Vesnina will have little time to celebrate: She will face either dangerous American teenager CiCi Bellis or wild card Ajla Tomljanovic in her first match followed by a potential third-round clash with either 23rd-seeded Daria Gavrilova or possibly former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova.

Reigning Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza, reigning WTA Finals champ Dominika Cibulkova, Olympic gold medal champion and Miami fan favorite Monica Puig and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki are all threats in this quarter, which also includes Anastasija Sevastova and hard-hitting Ana Konjuh. One of them should make the quarterfinals.

Muguruza, who has yet to surpass the round of 16 in five career Miami appearances, played with aggression at the right times reaching the Indian Wells quarterfinals. The 14th-ranked Wozniacki has already reached five quarterfinals, including two finals, this season though she hasn’t made the last eight in Miami since 2012 when she upset Serena.

Bottom Quarter

This section pops with some of the most dangerous servers in the sport—second-seeded Karolina Pliskova and Australian Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe—and a pair of control artists in fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and ninth-seeded Elena Svitolina.

The 2012 tournament champion, Radwanska has been reeling recently. Since losing to Konta in the Sydney final, Radwanska has failed to win back-to-back matches in her last four tournaments.

Soft hands and a shrewd mind have helped Radwanska adapt to unsettling Miami conditions in the past. Miami is Ninja territory: She’s made the quarterfinals or better in five of her last seven Crandon Park appearances. Radwanska can make another run this month.

Armed with two titles on the season and one of the most volatile serves in the sport, Pliskova is a threat to challenge for No. 1 this season if she stays healthy and can continue the consistency she’s shown so far.

Pliskova’s best Miami result was a 2015 quarterfinal appearance but she’s in form, competing with calm and control and is poised to go deep in the draw.


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